Happy Birthday AmaltheaLuchiaAizen!

Antoinette "Tony" Stark, contrary to her usual fashionista appearance, looked like utter shit. Her usually neck-length hair had been cropped short in a way that it was obviously done to de-humanize her, her skin was horrible sunburned, and there was something glowing in her chest.

There were fresh bandages and she had clearly lost an incredibly amount of weight.

In short she looked like someone who had been through hell the past few months and had fought even harder to escape it.

Tony let the reporters ask their questions, but was rather firm about putting an end to the bloody legacy of her father considering it was her weapons that had damn near killed her and so many soldiers. However if that wasn't shocking enough, her next act was to immediately fire her long-time "friend" Obadiah Stane from the company and remove all access to Stark Industries pending an internal investigation. Her glare towards him when he attempted to shut her down said volumes of how pissed she was at him.

With how exhausted she was, Tony was not in the mood to play ball anymore. Especially considering what the terrorists had let slip while she was held captive... there were quite a few enlightening conversations she just happened to overhear that had only confirmed her suspicions about Stane.

"Tony, Tony, Tony...be reasonable about this," said Stane, trying to play the 'long time friend' card.

Tony, however, was not having it.

"I'm dead serious. You're fired and I've already enlightened Rhodey and his superiors about what you did. You're finished and I'll be damned if I let a parasite like you anywhere near me or my tech ever again," said Tony flatly.

Rhodey had been skeptical at first (as had his superiors) but several of the details were things Tony shouldn't know and would have no reason to access even if she did. It simply wasn't her business, top weapons contractor or not.

Details about covert missions with specially trained teams that had either gone badly or had barely succeeded. Some of the information she shared was already being used to rescue men they had thought lost, which only solidified she wasn't lying in the least.

Tony hadn't exactly been idle during the torture sessions. She had actually somewhat impressed her captors with how well she could take a hit and the fact that she had held out as long as she had.

Stane looked angry, but hid it well. Only someone trained in reading micro-expressions would have caught it, his poker face was that good.

"Tony, why don't you sleep it over," suggested Stane, though inwardly he was already making preparations to cut her out of the company and cite trauma as the reason.

"Oh by all means," said Tony, hiding her dark smirk.

The second she was able to contact Jarvis, she had already started making preparations to cut Stane out. All his passwords had been changed into incomprehensible gibberish, his access codes had been revoked, and anyone she knew worked on any of his secret projects had their own work put under special quarantine procedures and their access locked until they could prove they were trustworthy. They could barely access the building or main areas without needing assistance.

Stane would find several less than amused and all highly trained soldiers waiting for him the second he reached the guard house.

Tony watched Stane leave the building, and sent Rhodey a text. The minute his car reached the guard house, the tech inside it would short circuit and cut off all power to his car and essentially lock him inside the car with no way to get out. Since she didn't know what tech he had on hand for his own personal use, they would be using a tow truck to deliver him to a secret location with people they knew for a fact were trustworthy.

He was not going to be in for a good time, she had made sure of that.

The second she reached her house, she damn near collapsed on the couch. Pepper was already there, mostly to act as support. Rhodey came in a bit later with some food.

"Stane's been arrested and everything he had on him was confiscated...including a rather nasty device that paralyzed anyone within hearing range," said Rhodey grimly. He couldn't imagine the damage that man could have caused, especially since he had the power to remove Tony from her company legally.

"How did you arrest him then?" asked Tony, barely looking up.

"One of the soldiers was deaf, the device didn't affect him due to his hearing aid," said Rhodey.

The man was the one who drove the tow truck to the base, and he had his service weapon on him. It was pure luck that saved their ass, because he shot Stane in the leg immobilizing him. Stane was too busy trying to staunch the bleeding to stop him from removing the device and destroying it.

Any chance of him pleading his innocence was shot to hell because of that stunt, and it was almost guaranteed he would be given a one-way ticket to the deepest prison they could find. The US government didn't take kindly to people who double-dipped in their contracts and sold high-tech weaponry to the very people that the soldiers were supposed to defend against.

"Tell whoever is doing the prosecuting that Stark Industries will happily turn over any and all evidence of Stane's actions that they need to insure he never makes it out," said Tony.

"How did you know Stane was a traitor?" asked Pepper.

Tony scoffed.

"Please, I keep tabs on everyone high ranked enough to cause a problem, especially Stane. The way my parents were murdered was enough to get me suspicious of a potential mole, because Howard was planning to downsize some of the weapons development in favor of defensive products instead. Stane was among the most vocal about how the weapons department was too 'profitable' to be shut down like that."

Stane had grown too used to the power that came from being at the top while she was at college. He pretended to be on her side, but the second she started trying to downsize the weapons division he would divert the idea to something else...or thought he did. She had been downsizing it for years, with several major victories and a few losses because Stane found out and made changes last minute.

Anyone that dead set on continuing a single division at the expense of the others despite the owner's opinion of it wasn't to be trusted in her opinion. And boy, had she been right on that one.

Stane just didn't expect Tony to be smart enough to pick up on the subtle queues and already have a plan in place to stop him so fast.

"So what happens now?" asked Pepper.

"First things first, I need to remove all of Stane's influence from the company. Every member of the board is going to get a thorough check before they're allowed anywhere near the company. But tomorrow morning I'm going into a pet shelter," said Tony.

Pepper and Rhodey blinked.

"Why a pet shelter?" asked Pepper.

Tony's expression was flat. She looked at Rhodey specifically when she explained.

"Rhodey, what would be one of the things a therapist would recommend for someone who's spent a considerable amount of time in captivity under torture, and who's been sent stateside?" she asked bluntly.

"Extended therapy, among other things. Wait...are you planning to get a service animal?"

"I want to visit a few local shelters to find some sort of animal companion to help me keep my mind off things, at least until I have a baseline to work with," said Tony.

Rhodey, rather than tell her it was a horrible idea, actually approved. Tony wasn't a soldier, and she would be able to afford the expense of a pet anyway.

The next morning Tony went to three different shelters (two of which would be getting an anonymous donation of supplies and cash) and she had almost given up hope. She went straight for the long-term residents in need of a home first, then went for the 'newer' residents.

Tony would return a few days later once the adoption went through and the animals were given a full look over by the vet. She was able to easily afford all three animals, and the had a rather unfortunate backstory attached, which played a part in why she had adopted then over many candidates.

Pepper had to stare at the absolutely massive pair of dogs and the somewhat grumpy looking cat.

"Tony...what the hell."

Tony didn't say anything, she just let the cat out first. The feline promptly darted into the house and would later take up almost permanent residence in her shop downstairs. It was not a sociable cat, and the quiet of the shop suited it just fine.

The dogs timidly sniffed around the home and Tony allowed them to get used to the place. The smaller dog was an American Pit Bull, and it was fairly obvious the poor thing had been a bait dog before. However once it got used to the house and to the frequent visitors, it was an absolute sweet heart. It's tail wagged happily whenever Tony entered the room and it would totally hog the entire bed if given the chance.

The second dog was much bigger, but it just looked big and mean. Pepper looked it up later and found out it was a rather unusual breed called a Cane Corso, which was an Italian breed. From what Tony found out, the cops had busted the ring before this particular dog could be used to fight.

Tony had already spoken to Rhodey and he was calling in a few of his friends to help her train them to be guard dogs. It was more of a 'better safe than sorry' thing, as Tony didn't want them to actually do more than look intimidating.

"So what are their names?"

"The cat is named Bast, because it's an Egyptian Mau. The creeps who owned the fight ring only kept her for breeding purposes, but fortunately she only had the one litter before they were busted. The pit bull is called Angel, because she acts like a total sweetheart, and the other dog is Boomer because of how loud his bark is."

That and the dog's original owner was an old man who couldn't take care of him anymore because he moved into an assisted living facility and his son didn't want the massive dog in his house.

At this point Tony was just glad Boomer preferred the floor (and later a nice doggie bed) because both dogs would have kicked her off in short order. Angel, bless her doggie heart, had a habit of licking her continually whenever Tony had a nightmare and Boomer would show a surprising degree of awareness by openly guarding the room until Tony calmed down.

The trial of Stane was quiet and discreet, and Tony felt a sense of relief seeing him thrown into the darkest place that the US government could find. It seems that what she knew of was only the tip of the iceberg, and there were several things she hadn't handed over to the government as she was attempting to find who the proper agency was to contact as she doubted the government would be able to do anything in the first place.

Either way, her paranoia was on full blast as she prepared for trouble.

Shortly after she finished her new armor (yet another reason she was thrilled to be rid of Stane), she was visited by a rather unusual person.

Boomer and Angel were perfect guard dogs...they growled, but did not attack.

Tony was rather glad they were taking that particular aspect of their training well.

"You're a hard person to contact," he commented.

"I find it fascinating you got past the security system, considering I revamped it the second I got home," she replied back. If he noticed the fact she was discreetly fingering the odd ring on her right hand, he said nothing.

Oh, if only he knew what that ring signified... and the hassle she had gone through to get it.

His name was Nick Fury, and he worked for an agency with a ridiculously long name her mind immediately shortened to simply "SHIELD".

She had to raise an eyebrow, because she had a fairly good idea who started that group and why it was actually called that.

"So just to be clear, you're the group that keeps an eye out for people like HYDRA or any other offshoot, and you wanted to assess me yourself to see if I'm a viable candidate for this 'Avenger' initiative," she deadpanned.

"You're fairly bright, Ms. Stark. I simply want to put those skills of yours to better use. The way you dealt with Stane was particularly telling," said Fury, not admitting anything.

The fact she had the sense to seek out proper therapy and went out of her way to get emotional support animals to assist her in her recovery said volumes. But not as much as the stories that had been appearing with ridiculous frequency about who the real Antoinette Stark was.

People who had kept quiet at her request had been speaking up and their stories verified by multiple sources about how Tony Stark's party girl personality was just a cover for a rather introverted woman who had a habit of using her money to do some actual good for people who really needed it.

In fact ever since her return, Tony hadn't done any of her usual behaviors at all. It was to the point the board had called a mandatory psych evaluation on her for her to keep her spot, as her personality was extremely different from what they were used to.

Fury had read the reports...the cover of a party girl was flawless and kept Stane from realizing the sheer depth and intelligence she had regarding his actions behind her back. No one suspected her of gathering the sheer ocean of evidence she had presented at the trial of her 'mentor' that insured he would never see the light of day again.